It’s Here At Last – A Gallery Of My Drawings And Sketches

You know I got into illustrating on my iPad some time ago.

Since then, I’ve been tweeting and posting these works on various media, and over the last couple of months I had a number of people asking me if I there was a place where they can browse them all.

So, here it is!

Navigate, give me your comments. All feedback welcome.

I wish you a sparkling and innovative 2013. More on my own plans very soon.


The Three Best Job Titles Of 2012 (And A Wish For 2013)

For me, 2012 was an intense year of encounters and meeting of the minds. As I was replaying it in my mind, I remembered three unusual job titles, and three special persons behind those job titles.

These persons and their titles also represent what I wish to be hot topics for 2013 - possibilities, innovation and the “internet of things”.

The first best job title of 2012 is “Princess of Possibility”, and it is proudly worn by Min Xuan Lee (twitter: @minxuan, LinkedIn), co-founder of PlayMoolah.

PlayMoolah was the winner of the Innotribe Startup Challenge 2012, and I had the pleasure of giving Min and Audrey  Tan (the other co-founder of PlayMoolah) the $50,000 prize at Innotribe@Sibos Osaka in November 2012. More about PlayMoolah in my earlier post on this blog.

Audrey (left) and Min (right) with PlayMoolah kids

Min has chosen the “Princess of Possibility” job title, and I find it goes perfectly with her – she is all smiles, outgoing and very kind. At the same time, she (and Audrey) relentlessly pursue a very ambitious and noble goal related to kids (educating them to master money and finance). And she manages to pull some magic (which really is all about perseverance and passion) to make this small startup grow.

The second best  job title of 2012  is “Chief Happiness Officer”, and is a title that has been acquired after considerable effort by Laurence Vanhée (twitter:@happy_laurence, LinkedIn). Surely by now you must be thinking Laurence works in some startup in the Silicon Valley to claim a title like that. Well, not really. Laurence works as the head of human resources at the Belgian Ministry of Social Security. One of her basic beliefs (to which I subscribe 100%) is that people should be happy at work. Here is her TEDx talk explaining some of the ways she uses to make this happen in a governmental organisation.  Don’t do the mistake of considering this as wishful thinking. Laurence is a woman on a mission, and she has many success to demonstrate that, yes, being happy at work is possible and necessary.

The Innotribe team has recently run an “Ignite” event at SWIFT – a kind of a TED event for the SWIFT employees, where we have brought some of the best 2012 Innotribe speakers (in fact we call them “Igniters”) to inspire our people. Laurence was with us and here is my sketch of her talk.

Happy Laurence’s Happy@Work talk

I really love the way Laurence says it – “Don’t Complain, Innovate!”. It’s a mantra that helps me at many occasions.

The third best job title of 2012 goes to Erik Kruse, “Networked Society Evangelist” at Ericsson. I got in touch with Erik (LinkedIn) when organising a SWIFT Business Forum is Oslo earlier in October 2012, and he simply … evangelised … me. I’m a technologist at heart, and he talks about pervasive technology, hyper-connectivity, and the “internet of things” (the internet where billions of humans but also hundreds of billions of things – computers, cars, fridges, micro-drones – will be connected and interacting). I’ve heard similar speeches before, and they tend to be threatening (at least to me). The big difference with Erik is that he explains this simply, in a non agressive manner. He is very humble and he talks in a kind of  “around an open fire” manner. I also like the way he uses the life of his son to illustrate many of his concepts. Here is his TEDx talk for you to enjoy.

I also invited Erik at the Ignite event at SWIFT, and here is my sketch of his talk.

Erik Kruse’s The Internet Of Things

Erik Kruse uses the expression “Digital Transfomation” which I vibrate in sync with, see here for my thoughts about the digital transformation of finance.

2012 is drawing to a close, and as I said I had the privilege of meeting and interacting with incredibly creative and innovative people. I’ve highlighted three of them in this post, as they have what I thought to be inspiring job titles, but if you read this blog you will find out about many others.

On to 2013 - I think the above three job titles are the perfect representation of my wishes -

- Possibilities. We need to be open, to scan and understand the tremendous change we’re going through, driven by technology.

- Don’t complain, innovate. For the financial industry, this means: yes, we have more regulation, more rules, more costs. And yes, we have to do all of that with flat or reduced budgets. The only way ahead is innovation.

- The “internet of things” or hyper-connectivity. This drives tremendous changes in the social fabric, especially with the younger generation, soon to become our new employees and/or consumers. Focusing and understanding this new generation will be of paramount importance.

I want to use the opportunity to wish you an innovative, sparkling, exciting 2013.

A HAPPY 2013.


An European In New York – A Story Of Convenience Versus Security

This post is about my experience as a consumer and a client of both a US bank and European banks. It is striking how the experience is different. It is a battle of convenience versus security.

Last week I was in New York to meet a number of innovation contacts and for a debrief of Innotribe@Sibos with journalists.

I landed on the Sunday between Black Friday and Cyber Monday, two major shopping events kicking off the Xmas frenzy, and the city was in full shopping dress. The Fifth avenue’s storefronts were rivalling each other to attract onlookers. Later in the week, I was also part of the tens of thousands of people on the streets near Rockefeller centre for a cold but nice evening to watch the new Christmas tree.

So, on the Sunday afternoon I went for my own Xmas shopping, which brings me back to the subject of this post. I have an account in a US bank, and when I shop in the US, I use a debit card of that bank.

As an European using a US debit card for shopping, you immediately notice a big difference in the way things happen. It is clear that in the US everything is done to make the payment fast and convenient. You tap or swipe the card. If the amount is less than 10 dollars, off you go. If the amount is more, you will be asked to sign (on paper or on a device) and that’s it.

Occasionally, a clerk will ask you: “Debit or Credit?”. I could not figure for a while exactly what I was supposed to answer. Eventually I understood that if I answered “Debit”, I would be asked to enter the PIN code of the card.

As in Europe, where no transaction can happen without a PIN code and a smart (chip) card.

But in the US, people don’t want to be bothered to remember all these pin codes. You just say “credit” and off you go. Also, the card I have is not a smart version, it just has a magnetic strip. But it is smart in a another way: I can tap it on a POS terminal- no need to always swipe it.

See the pattern? It’s all about convenience.

The European in me got, at some point, a little worried about so much simplicity and convenience. What about security? What about if my card gets stolen and misused?

In one of my previous trips, something very interesting happened that put my mind at ease. In that past trip, after I made a couple of purchases, the next one was refused. Immediately I got a phone call – from my bank. The call was triggered by the unusual pattern of the card’s usage (I used it after a long period, and the amount was bigger than usual). The person on the phone asked me the traditional questions to verify it was indeed me using the card, and re-enabled the card immediately.

At the end of the call, he told me “Sorry for the inconvenience”.
I said: “At the contrary, I thank you for taking care”. I was indeed happy that they were on the ball.

No, the US banks are not less security conscious. They just do things differently. I must say I was quite impressed- this bank in the US must have quite some tech to be able to spot patterns of people’s spending and react in real time.

How about online banking, you ask? Same- convenience trumps. There’s no security gizmos or calculators to authenticate and sign your transactions. You login with your user id and password. But they track which devices and computers you connect from. If you try using a different device, a special procedure kicks in to authenticate you.

In Europe, there’s no way you can access online banking without some security gizmo, most often a calculator-like device in which you insert a debit or a credit card. Every time you sign a transaction, you type in sequences of digits from the computer screen into the device, and then copy other sequences of digits displayed by the device back into the computer.

My long time readers will see my usual complaint coming- indeed when I sit down to do my weekly payments in front of my computer, I have 4 different gizmos to deal with, because I’m client of 5 different banks. I want to use this occasion though to congratulate AXA and CBC in Belgium, who decided to use the same gizmo for their web sites (Yay!). If only all banks would decide to do the same…

There are other interesting things that are possible in the US system. Companies like Yodlee, Mint, Wesabe and others are empowering banking customers to mashup data from all their accounts and aggregate them in a single integrated view. A little bit like SWIFT does for CFOs of large companies connected to their network.

Something like this would be very difficult in Europe, because of the security concerns. But also, perhaps even more importantly, because banks are not ready to relinquish this immediate and close relationships they have with their consumers, thought the specific websites and gizmos.

What will prevail? Openness and convenience? Or security and closed systems?

The young hyper-connected generation coming up as our new customers and employees will “vote their feet”.

My prediction: openness and convenience. What is yours? Comment below.

How’s This For A Change: A Startup That Surfs The Wave Of The Crisis

I love writing about startups and their path and challenges. This post is about a Belgian startup, founded by an ex-collegue of mine at SWIFT. The startup is called INTIX,  and has a solution for a challenge specific to the financial industry: manage, access and analyse a financial institution’s accumulated financial messaging data.

Marc Braet, one of the co-founders of INTIX, and I met recently at Sibos and talked about his firm’s entrepreneurial journey and what motivates their specific brand of innovation. Marc Braet has worked in the financial industry from 1996 at SWIFT and other financial-related firms. His partner at INTIX, Wouter Van Santvliet, also has experience in the financial services industry at companies such as Beyers & Partners, Trax and Sungard, with his expertise focused more on the technology side. Together they decided to found INTIX in 2011.

“We were motivated to start our company because we had detected this opportunity in the market, and we believed we had the ability to offer a solution for it,” says Marc. “We have an entrepreneurial mindset and ambition that could best be satisfied by starting our own firm.”

“Our INTIX Message Warehouse solution is truly comprehensive in allowing institutions to access and analyze all types of financial messaging data,” says Marc. “Our solution supports all financial domains, such as payments, treasury, securities, trade, and includes the full spectrum of financial standards that apply. It delivers a qualitative support for large volumes of data.”

So far nothing that jumps out as big innovation. But I was intrigued by INTIX’s approach in developing their solution, since traditional development methods would have been too costly.

“With traditional development methods, supporting such a huge variety of data standards would have required a massive investment in R&D, which was more than we could have done as a small startup firm, and which would by default not be economically viable,” said Braet.  “So instead, we applied a declarative approach based on formal specifications of these standards, which could be achieved through a relatively limited effort in R&D.”

Marc and Wouter developed the initial concept for the INTIX solution in 2010, and met with financial institutions to gather feedback and ideas for key features. They debuted a demo of the solution at SIBOS 2011 in Toronto, which was well received. In 2012, INTIX received an innovation subsidy from the Belgian Flemish government, which enabled INTIX to scale up its R&D efforts.

At SIBOS 2012 in Osaka, INTIX announced that they have signed a contract with KBC Bank in Belgium to deliver the INTIX Message Warehouse solution for that banking group, which is one of the largest banks in Belgium.

Marc told me about their journey from initial concept to thriving startup, and he offered some surprising lessons for other entrepreneurs.

“We started our company at a time of full economic crisis,” says Marc. “Although it might sound strange, this was actually an advantage to us. Because the economy was in recession and there was so much uncertainty, we were able to do a lot of R&D work in a slow, not very demanding market. As such, we were able to focus on improving our solution and we did not really have to miss any opportunities. Now we feel that the market is gearing up again, and we are ready to deliver a finished solution to our customers. So in a sense, the timing has been perfect for us.”

Marc also told me that one lesson of his company’s early stages is that you always need more money than you initially expected. “Almost every technology startup is going to be faced with delays in the R&D process, often because you end up doing more with the solution or offering different features than you initially planned. R&D is a discovery process of learning and adapting as you go along. We were fortunate to be awarded an innovation subsidy from the Belgian Flemish Government, which enabled us to keep refining our solution and keep hiring people. It takes time to hire good people for a startup firm, but it pays to be selective about who you hire. You need to hire people with the right skills who also have the right temperament and dedication.”

Very much echoing Pam Pecs Cytron, the CEO of PendoSystems, who I wrote about earlier, the key challenge the INTIX team encountered was that larger banks would say they were interested in the solution, but were reluctant to do business with a relatively new, unknown startup company. “We would be confronted with statements like, ‘You have a great solution, but you have to understand that we cannot buy from such a small player,’” says Marc. “However, it’s important to get your first contract and your first good customer reference – after that, your company and solution have more credibility. The first customer contract is the hardest to sign.”

I have been writing previously about the 3 Ps of innovation – patience, perseverance and passion.

The 3Ps of Innovation

Marc has learned the value of the 3Ps. He says: “One of the most important characteristics for startup success is to never give up and to believe in what you are doing. In our opinion, if you want to start a company in order to quickly become rich, that is not the right motivation. We are building a strong foundation for sustainable growth. We are a 100% privately funded startup firm with no third parties involved, and we are determined to grow in a financially healthy manner.”

INTIX is already making inroads into the European financial sector, and has also set up partnerships in regions like the Middle East and Russia. “We are working to cover the market outside of Europe by forming distribution channels and partnerships with established players,” said Braet. “We are still a young company, but we have global ambition!”

Good luck to Marc and INTIX.


Creative Commons License
This work by Kosta Peric is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs 3.0 Unported License.

I Want My Data Back! (A Vision Of Data Vaults, APIs, Open Systems And Standards)

Have you stopped and thought about your data out there on the internet? When I say your data, I really mean data about you. Your Twitter followers, your Facebook friends, your eBay reputation. Or, data about your company: purchase record, customer lists, customer credit card numbers.

I think a lot about these data, and in fact I worry. I’ll use LinkedIn to illustrate my point (and I don’t want to single them out, all I’m going to write below applies to many other companies that have your data). I’ve spent countless hours building up a “persona” on LinkedIn, fine tuning my profile, searching contacts and adding them as connections. Adding and receiving recommendations, and, most recently, endorsements.

My LinkedIn profile is a very, very precious asset to me.

So, what if -

- (god forbids) LinkedIn goes bust and disappears?

- LinkedIn somehow destroys this data (say, due to a bug)?

- My account on LinkedIn is hijacked by hackers and they use my connections for their own purpose?

- LinkedIn is hijacked by hackers who destroy all the data?

My worry is that I depend on LinkedIn, and an increasing number of other companies (Apple, Google, Facebook, Twitter to name a few), to make sure my data is safe and not compromised. Most of them I trust as I would trust my bank with my money. So my worry is really about statistics – the more there are, the more likely one will screw up.

There’s an additional topic for consideration- the above companies own some of my data and they make money by aggregating it with other data and selling to companies eager to know many details about me. I don’t get to have any share of that revenue. I’ll write about this in another blog.

Innotribe’s Digital Asset Grid (DAG) project could help with my worry. The basic assumption behind the project is that you get to control your data – the digital assets such as my LinkedIn connections or my company’s purchase record. You get to truly own your data and choose where to store it, or who to entrust with this data. The DAG acts a as global directory, tracking your decisions. You also get to control who can access your data and what they do with it.

I’m a big fan of the DAG project. I was thinking about how LinkedIn (again to pick them as an illustration) would work in a DAG world.

Here’s a list of things that need to happen for this to be possible:

1. Data classification: in the DAG world, LinkedIn would publish several classes of data. To name a few: profile, connections, status, endorsements.

2. Empowerment of the user: LinkedIn would provide to each user the ability to choose,  for each of the classes above, where to store it. The user could choose to let it in LinkedIn (for example, the status updates, very public and short lived, can stay), or choose some other digital asset storage provider (for example, the sensitive connections data would go to another storage provider, more trusted by the user).

3. Availability of an open,  API based standard for digital asset storage access. The API (application programming interface), available publicly on the internet, would allow LinkedIn to fetch my data from the relevant storage provider. The standard encompasses how to get to the data, and how LinkedIn authenticates itself to the storage provider.

4. A thriving economy of storage providers, offering all degrees of services, security, convenience and trust. The key tasks of the providers are to store the data, check whether any party requiring the data has been authorised to do so, and to provide the data. The DAG acts as a secure directory on the internet, connecting LinkedIn and all the providers. On top of these very basic services, one can easily imagine may value added services that can be provided (long term storage, archival, monetization, cross-referencing with other users, etc). In fact, I can envision a user building her own storage based on open source standards and code, for data that she absolutely doesn’t want to store anywhere else but with herself.
The DAG project positions banks as data storage providers – truly a very natural evolution from their mission of today (safekeeping monetary assets) to the mission of tomorrow (safekeeping digital assets)

How does all of this change the user experience in LinkedIn? This is the best part: it does not. LinkedIn looks the same to you as it was. Everything happens behind the scenes. For example, when you login, LinkedIn fetches your connections from the relevant storage provider (if you have chosen to have this asset stored elsewhere). It then queries the statuses and updates of your connections, in the same way as today. The difference is that fetching this information may imply going to other data storage providers, based on the choices your connections have all made for themselves.

The software architect in me sees some issues with this architecture -

- the traffic on the internet will increase exponentially, as LinkedIn (and all others who have your data) have to go through additional steps to get to your data (rather than simply getting it from their own local storage): request the DAG to identify the relevant storage provider, and then go to the storage provider to actually get the data. The next step in my thinking will certainly be to try to assess how much more traffic this means.

- the architecture does cover data ownership, but doesn’t cope with the privacy of the data. Each provider such as LinkedIn could “cache”  the data that is being transferred (in fact, storing temporary data for a longer period) and still end up knowing a lot about you. The good thing is that you still end up owning the master copy of the data, a major benefit compared to the current situation.

The architecture is promising – it delivers the basic benefit of user empowerment, and creates a thriving new economy of storage providers. What we urgently need are the open standards.

Who can help?